What is Mindfulness?

What is Mindfulness

What is Mindfulness?

To appreciate what we mean by Mindfulness, we start with recognising “automatic pilot”. How many times have you walked into a different room in your home and found yourself there with little recall of the steps you took to get there, or the thoughts you were thinking on the way.  To top it all, you find yourself standing there having forgotten what you came in for in the first place!  Sound familiar?  The story plays out in many other ways – if you drive a vehicle, you may have driven home many times and find yourself with little recall of the journey home because you were lost in thought.  Or, you walked into town and had no idea you walked right past someone you know quite well, without noticing.  Perhaps some of those situations sound familiar – the similarity in each situation is how the mind becomes involved with thinking without our being fully aware of the activity we are involved in at the time, it is as if we were on automatic pilot, or “autopilot”. 

We can spend much of our time in autopilot, engaged in an activity and lost elsewhere in thought.  The elsewhere is the interesting part – it may include re-playing scenes from the past, or the day just gone, or thoughts about what we’re going to do when….projecting our minds into the future.

Where’s the problem with that, particularly if our thoughts are happy ones?  Therein lies the problem, very often our automatic thoughts are negative.  They may start off on a happy line of thought, but then along comes a memory attached to that happy thought and we follow it, from there we’re drawn into one thought, then another, on into a train of thought and before long, we’re waking up at “Thought Grand Central”, not feeling very happy at all.  To top it all off, while we were walking along on our thought train we missed the beautiful sunset, walked straight past the trees ringing with birdsong and walked past our friend, without seeing them, once more! 

Not only does our tendency to become drawn into thinking rob us of the richness of our outer and inner world, it more often than not leaves us with negative feelings that, when we come back to awareness, seem to have appeared out of nowhere.  If only we had been more mindful, we might have experienced the sunset, heard the birds and their enchanting melodies and seen and enjoyed a minute or two chatting with our friend, while the sun went down.

Why practice mindfulness?

Recent research in mindfulness, has revealed many benefits, including: decreases in anxiety, depression, rumination and emotional reactivity.  Mindfulness has been shown to help increase well-being, feelings of happiness and concentration.

The regular practicing of mindfulness has also been found to help foster benefits to physical health including: quality of sleep, improving immune system function and decreasing blood pressure.

Regular and longer term mindfulness practice has been linked to structural and functional brain changes in areas associated with attention, emotional regulation, empathy and bodily awareness.

So, what is Mindfulness and where can I get some?

We already possess within us everything we need in order to become more mindful: an innate ability to be aware of what’s happening now in this present moment without judgement.  As Rob Nairn puts it:

Knowing what is happening, while it is happening, without preference.

Knowing what is happening while it is happening, in other words, when we are present through our senses to what is happening around us this moment, is an experiential knowing – an awareness – and that awareness, we learn, is always present, always aware, here for us to rest in.  As we train our minds in this way, we gradually come to trust this awareness as a place where we can rest, at peace – a secure base that is less reliant on external circumstances. The learning to recognise and rest in that awareness is the practice of Mindfulness where we train our minds to do just that. 

Forthcoming 8wk Mindfulness Based Living Course!

Over a period of eight weeks we learn the practice of mindfulness – an eight week course – and over the coming posts, I hope to give a flavour of the eight week course that I will be running in January.

For more information on forthcoming 8wk Mindfulness Courses click here.